In AMSI scholarship recipient
AMSI grant recipient profile: Mark Boxsell

Mark Boxsell

University of Newcastle

I am a mathematics student at the University of Newcastle. My work in mathematics is focused on the structure of solutions of curvature flow equations related to steadily rotating spirals in the plane. This work is inspired by similar spiral waves that are observed in physicals systems such as cardiac tissue and the Belousov-Zhabotinsky reaction.

I have previously served in the Royal Australian Navy as a Mine Warfare sailor, and then worked for Australian Associated Press as a print media monitor. When I’m not studying, I hang out with my wife and three kids and try to play as much hockey as I can fit into the week. I’ve also started learning Chinese after visiting the University of Science and Technology of China for their 2023 Mathematic Summer Camp.

1. Can you give me a quick rundown about the type of mathematics you are studying and its potential impacts for the broader community (think how you would explain your work and studies to others who don’t study maths)

If you ever watch the cricket at a large stadium you are bound to see the crowd create what is commonly referred to as a Mexican wave. The crowd is typically in a state of rest with their hands down, but as the people nearest to them are excited by the wave travelling around the stadium, they too are excited and raise their own hands. After a short period, the people lower their hands and return to their rest state. If a person already has their hands raised when the wave gets to them, since they cannot raise their hands further, we say that they experience a refractory period where they do not respond to stimuli.

The crowd is a simple example of a what we more generally call excitable media. Other examples include cardiac tissue, neurons, and some chemical reactions. Excitable media are characterised by an equilibrium state, a sudden response to stimuli, and a refractory period. Excitable media often exhibit pattern formation. In the crowd above a sustained wave that travels in one direction around the stadium would be an example of pattern formation.

In two-dimensional excitable media spiral waves can form which rotate around a small core. In cardiac tissue these are called re-entry waves and can be experienced as various arrythmias. Since the systems used to model excitable media can be quite challenging to study directly, one approach is to study the geometric behaviour of the spirals themselves. In my project I am looking at some results for the case when these spirals rotate at a constant speed.


2. How did you get into mathematics/statistics/data science? Was there someone or something that inspired you to this field?

I decided to enlist in the navy before I was able to finish high school. When I left, I abandoned my goal to go to university and study either communication, or pure mathematics. I had thought that a communication degree would help me become a brilliant speech writer and that pure mathematics was the antonym of impure mathematics.

A few years ago, I was completing a communications degree, I found it was not as fulfilling as I had anticipated, so inspired by my curiosity from childhood I applied to transfer into a mathematics degree. I think it was a good decision, but I do not have the words to describe how challenging, rewarding, and life changing the experience has been.


3. You received a Travel Grant to attend AMSI Summer School 2024. How important was this in terms of your ability to attend, fully participate in the program and meet others studying in similar fields? Do you think it was an advantage to attend the program in-person?

I would not have been able to attend the AMSI Summer School without the Travel Grant. It is an expense that my family simply would not have been able to afford. I appreciated the opportunity to attend in person as it provided the opportunity to meet students and researchers from across the country.


4. What was the most valuable part of the program for you?

The mathematics was fascinating. I gained exposure to an area of mathematics that extend on concepts I had encountered in an interesting and useful way.


5. In the long-term, what do you think are the benefits of having attended Summer School?

New skills and better appreciate for the diversity of work being done by other students. By attending in person, I was able to discuss content directly with the teaching staff and was not inhibited by the limitations of remote attendance.


6. Summer School included a special Careers Day program which aims to help give students an idea of the kinds of career paths available to maths graduates in industry and private sector research areas. Do you feel better equipped to explore career options in the mathematical sciences after attending AMSI Summer School?

While there is constant discussion around a shortage of mathematically trained graduates the exact career opportunities for graduates of the mathematical sciences can occasionally feel rather abstract. It is straight forward to see a pathway to a career in research, or even the finance sector, but options like working for a consultancy were perhaps not as obvious. The career day gave me opportunity to identify options for the future and prioritise skills that I need to build before re-entering the workforce.


7. What advice would you give to someone who is considering applying for Summer School in 2025? Should they apply and why?

I think people should take the opportunity to experience the Summer School if they can. I’d suggest they attend in person if possible. If you are doing a course for credit, please relax. Attempting a course at that level in just four weeks is meant to be challenging,


8. What are your current career ambitions in the mathematical sciences sector?

I have few roles, and industries, that I am curious about exploring. For now, I am focused on my studies and developing some more industry focused skills in my spare time.


9. How did connecting with the community at AMSI Summer School support your experience?

As a mathematics student at a smaller university, it can sometimes feel like I am part of a rather small cohort. It was refreshing to connect with such a large and diverse community of mathematical sciences students and researchers during the AMSI Summer School.


10. Any other feedback/comments you would like to provide on the AMSI Travel Grant or AMSI Summer School 2024?

Thank you for providing the opportunity to experience the AMSI Summer School.